Canadian Whisky Rising

by Evan

The Canadian Whisky scene as a whole can be described as three or four Goliaths plus a few dozen or so (with more on the way) Davids. Many of these Davids are up and coming Craft Distilleries, a few of which are featured in this tasting. You have a few that have been operating for nearly a decade and sometimes more like Two Brewers, Shelter Point, Still Waters Distillery (Stalk & Barrel), and so on. Then you have the newest generation in which I would include Eau Claire, Burwood, Last Best, Victoria Caledonian, Dubh Glas, and many more. Some of these now have actual, bonafide whisky that they have produced themselves and released. Others are in hurry-up-and-wait mode when it comes to whisky, with nothing in a barrel that has reached the three-year mark needed to legally qualify, biding their time selling vodka, gin, and aged spirit releases.

The “Domestic” and “Import” Beer industry has suffered a thousand cuts over the last decade or more, as many customers flock to the many craft beer producers that continue to pop up. The industry of Big Beer is nowhere near close to dying, but whole swaths of beer lovers have essentially written them off. In my opinion, the main reason for this is that a lot of consumers have decided flavour and variety are king. When you can have a new seasonal or one-off beer in your hands every day of the week, do you really need to go back to the Molson, Labatts, Heineken and Stella of the world?

It could be that we will see the same thing happen on the whisky side of things. I would argue we already have – at least on a smaller scale. We have more choice in Canadian Whisky then we have ever had before, and as more distilleries get closer to whisky-age, this will continue. This and other influences already seem to have pushed the big companies to innovate and offer more new releases – many at the higher than bog-standard 40% ABV. You also see a greater push for more flavour, usually through more experimentation with barrels and/or a push for more flavourful grains and casks to be used.

Hopefully, that continues as well. A decade ago, it would have been easy to write off the Canadian Whisky Industry as a whole as stagnant and homogenized; happy to blend away the flavour with neutral casks and bland, bulk whisky. With the single malt boom and the current rye resurgence, things are shifting.

The best part of all of this chaos? More choice for us whisky lovers! That, and I can pour an eight-deep lineup of Canadian Whisky where NOTHING is stuck at the dreadfully low 40% ABV…

Curious about the lineup? Read on!

Canadian Club Barley Batch $52
Canadian Club is pushing the boundaries of the style we know (and occasionally love) as Canadian whisky. Barley Batch is a 2018 expression released to commemorate the 160th birthday of the brand, and it does so in a very unique style. Instead of simply releasing a slightly older version of their standard fair (or some other such shortcut), CC has given us a very singular expression. Most Canadian whisky is comprised of corn. And if we’re lucky…maybe some rye. But imagine what you’d have if you took that sweet and approachable Canadian spirit and married it to some well-matured malted barley whisky? Well…you’d have Barley Batch.

In the mix for this special release: 5-year-old Canadian Club from Hiram Walker Distillery of Windsor, Ontario PLUS 6-year-old malted barley whisky from Alberta Distillers of Calgary, Alberta.

Canadian Club has a long and storied history, just like the Hiram Walker Distillery that makes it. It was the most sold bottle on the black market in the United States during prohibition. Canadian Club is the only Distiller outside of the United Kingdom to be awarded a Royal Warrant. The Canadian Club brand is owned by Beam Suntory. Just about all Canadian Club is distilled at Hiram Walker Distillery, which is owned by Pernod Ricard.

Burwood Hybrid of Nemesis $50
A Collaboration between Calgary, Alberta’s Burwood Distillery and Zero Issue Brewery (also of Calgary) resulted in two very cool projects. This one is a mix of Burwood’s own single malt spirit and a batch of Zero Issue’s Nemesis IPA Beer that was distilled at Burwood. The two malts were distilled separately and then blended together in one ex-Rye Whiskey cask and aged for a year before being bottled at 44% ABV. It is too young to be called whisky but shows the direction that Burwood distillery is headed in, which is very exciting.

Burwood distillery is a relatively new kid on the block, having only been in operation since May/June of 2017 and only having started laying stuff down later that summer. Definitely worth keeping an eye on. Burwood creates very good Gin as well as some cool and unique Honey Eau de Vie and Honey Liqueur.

From the Producer: “Expertly blended together to highlight the attributes of each and elevate the tasting experience. The Nemesis IPA Whisky brings sweet and fruity notes as well as a nice hoppy finish to the blend. The Burwood Single Malt smoothes out the experience adding a dense and rich body to the middle of the taste profile and a characteristic single malt sweetness layers nicely on top of the fruitiness of the Nemesis. The use of a spicy Rye cask to finish this marriage ensures full integration and that this Hybrid emerges as a rounded and complete specimen.”

Stalk & Barrel Rye $65
From Still Waters Distillery in Ontario, Stalk and Barrel Rye is made from locally grown 100% Ontario rye grain. They mash, ferment, and distill by hand in small batches in a very small copper pot still. Aged in ex-bourbon casks on site for a minimum of three years. 46% ABV. No additives nor colouring and no chill-filtering.

Still Waters Distillery was the first micro-distillery operating in Ontario starting production in 2009, with their first rye and single malt releases hitting shelves back in 2013. They focus on using local grain as much as possible.

“With a friendship rooted in their love of whisky, Barry Stein and Barry Bernstein established Ontario’s first micro-distillery, beginning production in March 2009. True pioneers of the craft distilling movement in the province, Barry and Barry have honed their skills as craftsman to create a range of spirits, with their flagship Stalk & Barrel whiskies leading the way,” according to the distillery website. “We use locally sourced grain where possible and always Canadian grain. We have personal relationships with our grain suppliers and know exactly where the grain has come from and how it was grown. We are proud to use grain that is grown within 100km of our distillery by local farmers.”

Wiser’s Paul Coffey $47
Unquestionably one of the game’s all-time greatest D-men, Paul Coffey was an evitable choice for J.P. Wiser’s to immortalize in their Alumni Series. This is a 2-grain, seven-year-old jar of Canuck Juice that has been matured in four distinct barrel types. Most impressive, though? It’s been offered up at a respectable 48% abv in tribute to the legend’s historical 1985-86 campaign where he notched a record 48 goals (and 138 points!).

Wiser’s 35 Year Old $205
The latest 35-year-old offering from Wiser’s has landed! We don’t expect this one to last long either. While the producer’s tasting notes are a little sparse – orange, honeycomb, oak and dried fruit – rest assured you’ll still find all those hallmarks of great mature Canadian whisky: dunnage warehouses with earthen floors, fresh eucalyptus, split lumber and red berry. A treat of a whisky, and one that really is in a league of its own. 50% abv!

This is the second edition of the 35-year-old Wiser’s. The first was comprised of mostly Corn Whisky aged in ex-bourbon barrels with a small amount of Rye Whisky that spent time in Virgin Oak Casks.

In theory, the base whisky in Wiser’s 35 year old could be similar to the main components of Canadian Club 40 and 41 year old, just younger and with Rye Whisky added. All of the whisky for both the Wiser’s and Canadian Club bottles would have been distilled at Hiram Walker. They may have been ageing away at warehouses in different areas though.

94pts Davin de Kergommeaux (Whisky Advocate): “Teasing out the threads of this perfectly woven fabric takes time. And what an enjoyable time it is! Big whisky with no dominant notes, but enticing suggestions of pine pitch, butterscotch, barley sugars, freshwater plants, sandalwood, cream, brisk peppery spices, sweetish baking spices, clean wood with vague tannins, and gorgeous orange bitters late in the finish. Apricots, hard peaches, and echoes of raspberries throughout.”

Eau Claire Ploughman’s Rye $83
Eau Claire puts a lot of effort into being a ‘Farm to Glass’ Distillery, and this is something their Ploughman’s Rye epitomizes. The Rye used in the distillation was harvested by horse from a local field. After aging for two and a half years in Virgin American Oak Barrels, it was finished for a period of six months in two casks that previously held Batch 2 of Eau Claire’s own Single Malt Whisky. Bottled at 43% ABV.

I had the chance to try some of Eau Claire Distillery’s Rye before it hit the legal age to be called whisky, and I was very impressed with the rich, earthy notes that it exuded. Let’s see how the bottled version stacks up!

Evan’s Tasting Note
Earthy and full of chocolate. Dark chocolate, espresso grounds, old leather, orange oils, Arnold Palmers (a mocktail of iced tea and lemonade mixed together), mint, fresh baked pretzels, beautiful charred oak notes and baking spices.
Palate: Robust, round, and oily up front with fruit and spice coming through. More orange oils, dark cherries, peppermint leaves, anise and black licorice, dark rye bread, and black tea with a squeeze of lemon.
Finish: Good length with lots of earthy, spicy warmth. Runs the delicate balance between sweet and dry with some of both aspects showing.
Comments: The first two batches of Eau Claire Single Malt received a lot of press and showed a lot of promise. In my opinion, their first release of Rye Whisky is even better. It drinks very well right now, but as my cohort, Shawn said: give this a decade in the barrel and bottle it at a higher ABV and imagine what it could be…

Two Brewer’s Release 14 $100
Release 14 from Two Brewers in the Yukon uses a blend of dark and chocolate malts that are typically used in Yukon Brewing’s Midnight Sun Espresso Stout and Lead Dog Olde English Ale. The difference in style shows compared to other releases using lighter malts. This release is between six and eight years old and limited to 1460 bottles total. 46% ABV.

Two Brewers Single Malt Whisky is produced by Yukon Spirits in Whitehorse. Part of Yukon Brewery which started in 1997, they have been distilling since 2009. Two Brewers focus on small batch releases that are meant to be unique with no two being the same.

Shelter Point Rye KWM Cask $120
Our first ever KWM exclusive single cask of 100% rye whisky was selected by our team at Shelter Point Distillery on Vancouver Island, but it was originally distilled right here in Calgary – at Alberta Distillers… Distilled in 2009 the whisky and aged in an ex-Jack Daniel’s Barrel, this Rye has been bottled after 9 years at 59.6%. 240 total bottles!

Located on a farm halfway between Comox and Campbell River on Vancouver Island in BC. Shelter point has been laying down spirit in casks to eventually become whisky since June of 2011. They source much of the barley used from their own farm…

Quite the lineup if I do say so myself – and it didn’t even include the new Single Malt whisky releases from Dubh Glas (which I can’t wait to try), or anything from the likes of Glen Breton, Forty Creek, Highwood, and many more. The future is bright for Canadian Whisky. Who knows what treasures next year will bring to us?

What were the favourites, you ask?

3.TIE between the Eau Claire Ploughman’s Rye and the Burwood Nemesis Hybrid
2. Shelter Point RYe KWM Cask
1. Two Brewer’s Release 14

Craft was king on this day with the richness of flavour being cited by voters. It was exciting to see the David’s of the Canadian Distillery landscape show well – especially the local Burwood not-yet-whisky and Eau Claire young but incredible Rye Whisky. I am excited to see what the future brings from all companies big and small!

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